Editor's note:

How delight­ful it is to lis­ten in on two spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion authors as they dis­cuss their love and appre­ci­a­tion for a third! Enjoy this vin­tage con­ver­sa­tion between Richard Fos­ter and Chris Webb.

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Deep-Rooted in Christ

{This is an excerpt from Jan­u­ary 21, 2008’s issue of Richard Fos­ter’s Heart-to-Heart Pas­toral Let­ter. Here­in, he and Chris Webb dis­cuss Deep-Root­ed in Christ: The Way of Trans­for­ma­tion by Joshua Choon­min Kang. Richard wrote, We feel Deep-Root­ed is the clos­est kind of writ­ing in our day to Thomas à Kem­p­is and his Imi­ta­tion of Christ. So we have decid­ed to car­ry on a lit­tle dia­logue about this book and you can lis­ten in.”}

Richard: One thing that impress­es me about Deep-Root­ed is its qui­et con­fi­dence. I find this qual­i­ty also in Pas­tor Kang as a per­son, and it cer­tain­ly spills over into the book. This is such an unusu­al qual­i­ty in our day. So many peo­ple are either ten­ta­tive and fear­ful or they are bom­bas­tic and over­ly self-assured. It is a rare joy to find a writ­ing that is clear and con­cise from a per­son who is meek and hum­ble of heart.

Chris: I agree. And it’s notice­able that the book over­flows with a sense of grace, which I’m sure is the well­spring of this con­fi­dence. It’s clear that the life Pas­tor Kang describes flows out of a response to God’s gra­cious invi­ta­tion; it’s unforced, not a self-willed ini­tia­tive. As he says in Chap­ter 16: Spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline is all about prac­tic­ing the will that God has put into our hearts.” He’s gen­tly teach­ing us to allow God to take the lead rather than try­ing to pum­mel our­selves into holiness.

Richard: Exact­ly. At one point Pas­tor Kang writes, The dead­liest dis­ease of con­tem­po­rary life is impa­tience … there’s one thing we can’t achieve overnight: the dis­ci­pline of right­eous­ness.” I find this so true in myself. I’m always want­i­ng to be hero­ic in the spir­i­tu­al life. This was acute­ly true of my ear­ly years of min­istry: always tak­ing on more than was good and right; always try­ing for saint­hood overnight. Chris, any thoughts on how we can begin to tack­le this dead­liest disease”?

Chris: Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I’m usu­al­ly too busy striv­ing for spir­i­tu­al great­ness too, so I can’t claim to be a mas­ter of the virtue of patience! Per­haps the key dis­ci­pline so many of us need is sab­bath. God says, Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). But an essen­tial part of that jour­ney to holi­ness is bring­ing our fre­net­ic activ­i­ty on God’s behalf to a halt, and open­ing up time for him to act direct­ly. Of course, that means relin­quish­ing con­trol over the process, which is hard for all of us. This is where the series of chap­ters in Deep-Root­ed on wait­ing and antic­i­pa­tion can be so helpful.

Richard: Absolute­ly. This mat­ter of wait­ing and sur­ren­der­ing con­trol to God are right at the heart of our deep­est needs. It reminds me of an expe­ri­ence I had in learn­ing Sab­bath Prayer.” Can I share it with you?

Chris: By all means, share away!

Richard: Well, I was on a small island off the pacif­ic coast of Cana­da with a group of Chris­t­ian lead­ers. Dur­ing a morn­ing break peri­od I found a canoe and pad­dled over to a tiny island. Beach­ing the canoe I began explor­ing the fir-cov­ered crest. When I reached the crown of the island I dis­cov­ered a small wood­en plat­form some­one had built and a weath­ered wick­er chair which sat atop it like a lone­ly sentinel.

Eas­ing myself into the chair I sat back into the warm sun light and drank in the still­ness of land and sea and sky. Now, I did not pad­dle over to this love­ly spot to pray, only to explore. Sit­ting there, how­ev­er, I recalled Carolynn’s good­bye words to me at the air­port: I want you to come home refreshed!” Soon I found myself pray­ing sim­ply, Refresh me, Lord. Refresh me.” What next sur­faced to my mind was, I want to teach you Sab­bath Prayer.” I leaned for­ward in antic­i­pa­tion, though I was far from sure what Sab­bath Prayer” meant. You will have to guide me because I don’t know what I am sup­posed to do,” I respond­ed. Then came three words, the first a com­mand: Be still … Rest … Shalom.” That was all. Three words and no more. For some moments I sought to enter into the expe­ri­ence of each word.

The encounter was won­der­ful, but I was also aware that time was slip­ping by. I became con­cerned. It’s near­ly noon. Peo­ple will begin to miss me and won­der why I’ve stayed here so long. I’d bet­ter get back for lunch.” The same three words were spo­ken over me: Be still … Rest … Shalom.” They seemed to calm my spir­it, and I returned to a qui­et attentiveness.

After a while, how­ev­er, my mind became agi­tat­ed by a kind of hyper-respon­si­bil­i­ty because I found­ed the group. The next ses­sion will begin soon,” I rea­soned. I need to be there. What kind of exam­ple will my tru­an­cy make. Besides, every­one will real­ly begin to be con­cerned about my absence.” The same three words came into my mind: Be still … Rest … Shalom.”

The final temp­ta­tion, how­ev­er, was the most allur­ing. I began think­ing to myself, This expe­ri­ence is absolute­ly won­der­ful. I must cap­ture this moment for the future. But how? I can­not pos­si­bly remem­ber every­thing that is hap­pen­ing to me? Where is some paper? I must write it all down!” Again: Be still … Rest … Shalom.” All the more focused I set­tled back into Sab­bath Prayer. In a short time it seemed like the Pres­ence in the midst” end­ed, and so I made my way back to the group which hadn’t even missed my absence and were going right on with the day’s sched­ule! So, I guess I still have a lot to learn about wait­ing and let­ting go and sabbath.

Chris: Anoth­er tru­ly impres­sive char­ac­ter­is­tic of this book is Pas­tor Kang’s refusal to avoid the inher­ent dif­fi­cul­ties and strug­gles of the spir­i­tu­al life. At one point he bold­ly reframed soli­tude” as a pro­found lone­li­ness before God, and in anoth­er chap­ter he spoke of the dis­ci­pline of self-shat­ter­ing.” Towards the end of the book he reminds us that Jesus calls us to an abun­dant life, not the com­fort­able life.” My feel­ing is that in many British church­es that’s not a wel­come mes­sage; as one cler­gy friend of mine once lament­ed, peo­ple love the Hosan­nas” of Palm Sun­day and the Hal­lelu­jahs” of East­er Day, but would rather avoid the Good Fri­day cross that lies between them. Am I right in sens­ing that is also true here in the States?

Richard: Oh, yes. I imag­ine it is a uni­ver­sal human con­di­tion to want the Hosan­nas” and the Hal­lelu­jahs” with­out the cross of Good Fri­day. It reminds me of the tren­chant words of William Penn, No pain, no palm;\ No thorns, no throne;\ No gall, no glo­ry;\ No cross, no crown.” The pain and the thorns and the gall and the cross are sim­ply part of what it means to enroll in what Pas­tor Kang calls the school of the wilder­ness.” It is a rugged dis­ci­ple­ship we enter when we fol­low Jesus. There sim­ply is no oth­er way. And yet, right in the midst of all such painful real­i­ties there is also the palm and the throne and the glo­ry and the crown.

Chris: It was love­ly to see such an empha­sis on wis­dom in Deep-Root­ed; in Chap­ter 14, for exam­ple, Pas­tor Kang writes that mature Chris­t­ian faith involves the mar­riage of belief and wis­dom.” I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed his high­light­ing the need for this lov­ing and gra­cious dis­cern­ment about how best to live and share our walk with Christ. It stands in refresh­ing con­trast to the ten­den­cy I too often encounter where peo­ple are very well informed about Scrip­ture and doc­trine, but seem­ing less able to find a gra­cious and lov­ing way to express it!

Fol­low­ing Pas­tor Kang’s gen­tle guid­ance might per­haps lead to a lit­tle less stri­dent dog­ma­tism and encour­age a lit­tle more spir­i­tu­al dynamism.

Richard: You are so right, Chris. The Bible was not giv­en to us just so we can know the fine points between infralap­sar­i­an­ism and supralap­sar­i­an­ism but for teach­ing, for reproof, for cor­rec­tion, and for train­ing in right­eous­ness” so that we may become equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16 – 17).

Chris: If I had to pick out one aspect of this book that will prob­a­bly stay in my mind for some time, it’s Pas­tor Kang’s uncom­pro­mis­ing clar­i­ty about our pur­pose and call­ing. We don’t prac­tice the dis­ci­plines to become spir­i­tu­al giants, holy men and women of renown. We’re not on some sacred self-improve­ment pro­gram. Instead, Jesus is the goal for all believ­ers.” Our aim is to so cru­ci­fy our­selves that Christ can live in and through us – a call­ing to death before res­ur­rec­tion – which is per­haps why Deep-Root­ed opens with some very coura­geous and uncom­fort­able words: Begin with empti­ness.” We’re so often encour­aged to be filled, to be blessed, to receive all we can from God. I think it’s a hall­mark of Pas­tor Kang’s gospel-ground­ed teach­ing that he draws us back instead to self-sac­ri­fice, to renun­ci­a­tion, to the cross. But that’s very hard in prac­tice, don’t you think?

Richard: Yes, it is hard… some­times even hard unto death. But then, this call to dis­ci­ple­ship to Jesus isn’t our project. To be sure, we take up our cross to fol­low him, but the minute we do we dis­cov­er it is trans­formed into the light bur­den” and the easy yoke” which Christ promised. Jesus real­ly is with us, shoul­der­ing the bur­den with us, bear­ing the yoke with us. And he will show us how to live our lives as he would live our lives if he were we. This is the joy in Jesus’s call to dis­ci­ple­ship. He is with us even to the end of the age.

Well, our space is just about gone. Per­haps it would be good to close our con­ver­sa­tion with some thoughts from Pas­tor Kang himself.

Chris: Indeed!

I live in two worlds, the East and the West. I com­mu­ni­cate in two lan­guages, the one East­ern, the oth­er West­ern. I also have two streams of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty flow­ing with­in me, Asian and Amer­i­can.

While liv­ing in two worlds that are often at odds with each oth­er, I’ve learned how to bring har­mo­ny out of con­flict. Inevitably, the meet­ing point, the bal­anc­ing point, the uni­fy­ing point is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the lan­guage in which the East and the West con­verse. He is the Lord of all things. He is the Cre­ator of the heav­ens and earth with his Word. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

How shall we describe the life of a Christ­like per­son? Such a life sets a goal and imi­tates Jesus in a life­long process by and in the grace of God.”

With this book I’d like to invite you into the deep­er life that is root­ed in Jesus. Pur­su­ing depth takes lit­tle enough effort, but it will even­tu­al­ly lead us to a very gen­uine and very deep inner world.”

It is my prayer that as you read this book you will become a per­son who pur­sues char­ac­ter before suc­cess, integri­ty before pop­u­lar­i­ty, matu­ri­ty before growth and ser­vice to oth­ers before accom­plish­ment in your own life.”

— Joshua Choon­min Kang *

We’re glad you’re here!

Help­ing peo­ple like you abide with Jesus is why we post resources like this one. Always ad-free, Ren­o­varé is sup­port­ed by those who know soul-care is vital. Would you join us?

Donate >

* Joshua Choon­min Kang, Deep-Root­ed in Christ (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­si­ty Press, 2007), pp. 15 – 17.

Originally published January 2008